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Tina Blaschke-Thompson

SW 491: Combat Veterans: The Physical, Emotional, and Social Costs of War
Honorable Mention - Online
“Using immersive course design to deepen empathy for combat veterans”
- Tina Blaschke-Thompson -

More than 2.7 million troops have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. As many as 20% of these combat veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD and an average of 21,000 Traumatic Brain Injuries have been diagnosed each year since 2000. Suicide now takes more lives than war, with 22 veterans committing suicide every day. The need for culturally competent and skilled military social work services is immense.

“Combat Veterans: The Physical, Emotional, and Social Costs of War” is an online 2-credit elective course designed to increase awareness and deepen empathy for the experiences of those who have fought in our nation’s wars.

There are no lectures, textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, or academic papers... students learn through interacting with combat veterans, listening to interviews of their experiences, viewing images from their deployments, watching vetted documentary war footage, and reading material from those telling their stories from the battlefield. Performance was assessed through weekly “drills”, a 2-day immersive experience, a Veterans Day field assignment, and weekly reflections.

Organized around the military deployment cycle, students get to know the veterans by journeying with them as the weeks unfold, starting with how and why the veteran enlisted, what boot camp was like, their experience of war, and ending with the challenges they faced transitioning back to civilian life.

Students are required to take part in experiential and immersive activities to deepen their awareness and understanding of what the veterans have gone through, and the building of empathy at each phase. For example, during the 4 weeks students are “at war,” text alerts are sent on a regular basis to pull students back into the class. Just as service members can’t escape the war, students can’t escape this class. Following deployment, the text alerts are used to imitate the flashbacks and nightmares many combat veterans experience, reminding students that even though they are no longer in war, war is still with them.

The semester concludes with a live “Ask A Veteran” event, allowing students to meet the veterans they had gotten to know through their recorded testimonials.

Evidence of Effectiveness with Students:

“The course has been one I will continue to reflect on for years and has truly been the best and most intense course I have ever taken in my college career.”

"If you are looking for a course that goes above and beyond your standard university course, then this is it. ...this course does just about everything it can, short of shipping you out to a war zone..."

“The immersive experience is what made this class what it was and one that will outlast any other from my college career!”

Technologies and frameworks used in the course:

Team Members:

Emily Brozovic, MSU IT

Keesa Johnson, MSU IT

Glenn Stutzky, School of Social Work

Christopher Irvin, MSU IT

Sean Meredith, MSU IT

A special thanks to the veterans who were willing to share their stories!